Guide to How to Buy Cheap Computer Speakers

Not everyone has the know-how of can be bothered to be all technical when it comes to choosing computer speakers. This guide shows how to sift through the information unnecessary to the average consumer to come to the right decision.

Hopefully you’ve read my previous entry on what to do before you even start looking for speakers. Narrowing down your choices will make things a lot easier. Having your core needs pre-determined makes the selection process more about fulfilling supplementary criteria, rather than the basic requirements. Furthermore, you don’t want to spend your precious money on a set of fancy speakers only to find you don’t need all that power. I mean, that’s why we’re looking for CHEAP computer speakers here aren’t we? That said, at this point you would probably start comparison shopping; that is, searching at different online retail outlets for the best deals on the best products based on prices and consumer reviews. This is a fairly extensive process that can be quite time consuming and overwhelming.

The SMART way of looking for your ideal product online only consists of one step: compare reviews and opinions. That’s about it. If you’re just a casual user, you shouldn’t have to know too much technological jargon involving S/N ratios, frequency responses, drivers or even power supply wattages. Think about it, if people feel qualified enough to post a review, chances are they’d already know enough about all these. Even if they’re not, you’re getting an honest review from a layman just like most of us. Sure, there are bound to be some dissenters who only put extreme scores due to a personal experiences but it’s easy to weed these out.

A good way of starting would be to post in an audio or computer-based forum like Audio Forum for opinions, or browse through existing threads. Look through recommendations and search them at review sites like CNET and Test Freaks for professional and user reviews. Narrow your options further, and pick out the ideal one. Of course, this site also does all that, without the hassle of combing through a million other web pages, but it’s good to keep your options open.

If you want to be more specific about it, there are other things to look out for when searching online. It is still most efficient to read through reviews when taking these into account, however. Without getting into technical specifics, I’ll try to break down what else you should be searching for when browsing through your options:

1. Brand

No one wants to be labeled a brand-whore, but in the case of electronics it is often prudent to go with trustworthy brands. There’s no guarantee that they’ll be any better than no-name alternatives but in general this is true. Electronic brands build their image over years of high performance, so if it has a good reputation you can be certain it won’t be a bad product. Also important is that good brands often offer much better customer support, both in terms of warranties and servicing issues. With electronics, it would be preferable to get at least a year warranty on products in case of faulty wiring or parts, and support centres should be easily contactable. In addition, if it is a well-known brand/model, you can easily post a question online if you have a problem and people would be able to help you more easily as some might have encountered them before and may help in resolving the issue.

Examples of common, established brands for computer speakers are Creative Labs/Creative Technology, Logitech, Altec Lansing, Cyber Acoustics, and JBL.

2. Looks

Some people consider this an excessive superficiality, while other consider it the crux of their choice. If your entire room and/or computer setup is color-coordinated or themed, it might be crucial that your speakers fit in. For better or worse, most speakers are almost always entirely black, perhaps with matte silver accents. In fact it’s often the better choice when it comes to cheap speakers, as the really cheap, lousy ones tend to be this off-white, greyish shade that ages into a disgusting yellowish-brown tinge over time. Trust me, black is safe and timeless. Besides the color, some speakers are uniquely shaped, like domes or phalluses or otherwise. If that’s your thing, it would probably severely limit your choices but they do exist.

3. Controls/Peripherals

This is a bit more important. Most speakers come with a power switch and volume control, but you may need more utility controls on the speaker set itself. These may include basic EQ adjustments like bass and treble, central/surround volume control, a manual subwoofer control (very important in my opinion) and left/right balance. If you’re in a situation where you need to constantly switch between headphones and speakers, it would also be useful to have an audio-out/headphone jack so you don’t have to inconveniently reach around behind your PC to unplug your speaker’s cables. Many speakers these days also have an audio-in or MP3 jack for your headsets and MP3 players respectively.

4. Audio Quality Testing (optional?)

Now, what I mean here is if you intend to go to retail outlets and test speakers out. While this may seem like a good idea, the fact is most computer/electronics stores that sell computer speakers aren’t always the most conducive environments for sampling audio. The speaker positioning is weird, the acoustics are bad, the surroundings are noisy, you can’t concentrate and most importantly, it’s not a good representation of where the speakers are going to be after you purchase them. Still, it may be good if you’re narrowed down to a couple of choices and you just want to decide based on your physical exposures to them.

If you do get the chance to test them out in decent conditions, or if you just want to test your speakers after purchasing, these are what to look out for:

– Firstly, be sure to try them out with different types of audio; this means different genres of music, movies, games etc.

– Make sure there isn’t any distortion or noise produced.

– Highs should come out crisp but not annoying. They should not be weak and tinny.

– Mids should be clear, smooth and pronounced. The majority of the sounds produced in music tend to come out in the mids.

– Lows should be tight and punchy, not overly muffled and boomy. If you have a subwoofer, make sure they don’t sound too separated from the satellites, and should be the sole providers of the low end rather than involving the satellites. Cheap subwoofers tend to sound muddy and undefined. If you’re just using a 2 speaker setup, make sure you can still head the bass clearly as cheap 2.0 speakers most obvsiouly lack in this area; you should feel the lows ‘hitting’ you in the chest.

– The sounds should meld together without any overpowering elements. Especially important with subwoofers. If they feel a bit off hopefully there is an EQ setting in the speakers or in software that can remedy that.

As I’ve mentioned and as evident by this somewhat banal list, comparing reviews online really is the definitive way of searching for your best option, especially if you’re not into comparing technical specifications and all. It’s best not to stick to one site, as one person’s opinion might not reflect yours. Compile a number of reviews, both positive and negative, professional and user-generated, and decide which is for you.